Forrest Gander

2019 Pulitzer Prize

National Book Award Finalists Reviewed by Elizabeth Lund for The Washington Post Book World

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Forrest Gander’s Core Samples From the World (New Directions; paperback, $15.95) is the most surprising of the National Book Award finalists. Here, the avant-garde poet uses haibun — a Japanese form of essay-poem — and black-and-white photographs to ground his writing as he travels to China, Mexico, Bosnia and Chile. Each section opens with a complex, disorienting poem that re-creates the traveler’s experience of being in a place where things don’t quite make sense. Then Gander shares stories of things he has seen or heard of. He records his observations as he travels with other writers and exchanges ideas about poetry’s ability to transcend borders. The reader is constantly surprised by what comes next — such as a side trip to Utopia, Va. — and begins to crave the interruptions, which add freshness and energy to the work. The approach could have fallen flat or seemed amateurish, yet despite occasional missteps, the book delivers on its promise. —Elizabeth Lund